Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 Nettop

So I couple of weeks ago I told you all that I’d ordered something new for the living room.

My new toy is in fact a Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 Nettop. The main reason for this purchase will be apparent to regular readers of my blog. For those who have just popped in to see what the fuss is about, have a look at my posts on TuxTV and XBMC.

I chose the 320GB version, with 2GB of RAM and no external optical drive. It’s worth pointing out though that the device can be purchased with either a DVD R/W optical drive, or a Blu-ray & DVD R/W combo drive. This clips onto the product nicely and fits in both the provided stand, and the provided TV mounting bracket. eBuyer currently have this version on sale for £168.99 inc. VAT + P&P. I did however manage to pick the product up for £160 + P&P after using a corporate discount scheme. I chose to spend the money I saved on getting next day delivery purely because I hate waiting for things to come – Especially geeky stuff.

The version I purchased came with FreeDOS installed, as I didn’t want to purchased a Windows license with the product. You can however purchase it with either Windows 7 Home Premium, or Windows 7 Professional. It’s probably cheaper to purchase the product on it’s own, and then get the required Windows license. As I’m a Linux user, I didn’t want to go down this route.

Unboxing the product was straight forward, although eBuyer did send it in a massive box filled

with inflated packing strips.

Inside the box: 

  • Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180
    • Intel Atom D2700 2.13GHz (Dual Core!)
    • 2GB DDR3 RAM
    • 320GB HDD
    • AMD Radeon 6450 HD 512MB (Will kick out full 1080p and 3D too!)
    • Integrated Realtek HD Sound (With support for 7.1 using digital audio S/PDIF)
    • USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and 8-in-1 card reader supporting SDXC format
    • VGA and HDMI output ports. (HDMI will output sound too!)
  • Lenovo Ultrathin USB Keyboard and Mouse (Wired)
  • UK and EU power cord.
  • VESA TV Mount with screws
  • Lenovo IdeaCentre Stand (With rubber feet!)
  • Warranty, Installation and Disposal Documentation.

After unboxing an starting up the device I noticed it boots very quickly into the installed operating system. This is good for a media centre device, but isn’t very helpful when you want to change the BIOS settings. As with most Lenovo devices pressing enter when the device starts should take you straight to BIOS, but you have to be quick.

For some reason manufacturers seem to like setting the boot priorities wrong on almost every device they ship. This isn’t just a problem with Lenovo, but with Dell and HP too. When you first get the device started, you will need to change the USB HDD and FDD to have a higher priority than the built in HDD. If you’ve got one of the optional disk drives, you also need to make sure that this is set correctly to boot before the hard drive too. This isn’t vital, but it will annoy the hell out of you having to press F12 each time you want to boot from CD.

My intentions for this device is to be used as a media centre device running XBMC. I’ve found that XBMC tends to run better on the system it was designed for (Linux). My chosen distro is Ubuntu (specifically 10.04 LTS). You can go for a new version, but I’m not a fan of the Unity additions in recent versions. Feel free to use OpenElec or anything that will run smoothly on x86_64 architecture. If you really want to, use Windows, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Installing Ubuntu using a USB flash drive was fairly straight forward. It uses default open source drivers for the hardware and boots very fast! If you go for the model with a SSD inside I can see this device booting in less than 10 seconds. My device takes around 15 seconds to get passed BIOS, Grub and into Ubuntu, and a further 2 seconds-ish to launch XBMC. I’m sure disabling some of the start up services could also reduce this time (Or using OpenElec or XBMCbuntu).

The only issue I did have is installing the AMD ATI Radion HD drivers. Without these you cannot use the GPU to acellerate any graphics, so anything really heavy will kill the Atom processor, slowing the whole system. It seems AMD aren’t open source fans, and getting the proprietary drivers for Ubuntu was a complete pain. After many wasted hours, lots of four letter words and many reboots I did manage it. (See this tutorial).

After installing the graphics drivers, XBMC will launch perfectly and I’ve managed to get a Blu-ray streaming over the network to play without stuttering or breaking up. It’s worth pointing out that this was only possible using the built in Gigabit (1000mb/s) wired connection. Although the built in wifi controller is really good, it’s just not possible to stream anything of that size without killing everything else connected to the access point or router.

You many or may not need to install the RealTek Ethernet driver to do this. I found that with 10.04 I was able to connect to the network perfectly without needing to do this. However using OpenElec I wasn’t able to.

 

Ratings:

Build Quality: (9/10)
Another great Lenovo product. Lives up to the build quality of all IBM and Lenovo products.

Ease Of Use: (8/10)
Very easy to setup. Booting speed is a little too fast for first boot. Lack of BIOS prompt is also annoying. For Windows users (if purchased with pre-installed) I can see this device being very easy to setup and install.

Overall: (9/10)
Overall the device is a nice, clean and tidy media centre solution. It’s compactness makes it easy to hide in the living room (on the back of the telly with the bracket is the best). For an extra £45 Lenovo also provide a media centre Bluetooth remote and keypad (which looks really, really cool!) I’m not too sure how well this would be supported by XBMC, so I am looking for a USB IR receiver in order to use my Logitech Harmony remote with it.

A few Snaps:

 

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my review.
Before you leave I should probably point out a few boring things:

  • Although I work for IBM, this review has nothing to do with them. (Disclaimer)
  • If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, but my responses are not an official response from either Lenovo, IBM or any of it’s partners or sales teams.
  • I didn’t choose this product because I work for IBM. I chose it purely on it’s specification and external reviews.

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